Evening News (Edinburgh)
May 29, 2001, Tuesday
Tom Curtis, ‘Nazi War Suspect to be Extradited’
Konrad Kalejs, 87, is wanted in Latvia for alleged atrocities committed during the Second World War.
The news of Kalejs’ case came as the head of Britain’s all-party war crimes group criticised the delay in extraditing Gecas – wanted in Lithuania – and called for him to be tried “without delay”.
Kalejs arrived in a wheelchair to hear Melbourne magistrate Lisa Hannan’s decision, delivered after weeks of hearings.
Defence lawyers immediately said they would appeal against the ruling, describing it as “inhumane and unjust”.
Kalejs left Britain for Australia last January after Nazi hunters tracked him down to a retirement home in Lutterworth, Leicestershire.
Home Secretary Jack Straw previously insisted there was nothing Britain could have done to bring him to trial.
Kalejs had already been ordered to leave the United States and Canada because of allegedly lying about his wartime record.
Latvia indicted him for allegedly taking part in atrocities during the 1941 -44 occupation when 80,000 Jews were killed.
He is accused of being a guard at the Salaspils concentration camp near Riga, where Jews and Russian prisoners of war were executed, tortured or died of malnutrition.
Jewish and human rights groups claim he was an officer in the Arajs Kommando, a Nazi-sponsored death squad responsible for the murder of 30,000 Latvian Jews. He denies all the charges.
He was arrested in Australia last December after Latvia requested his extradition. He is staying on bail at a home for the elderly.
Today, two months after Lithuanian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Gecas, followed by an extradition request, Lord Janner urged the British authorities to act “as swiftly as possible.” His comments increased pressure on Justice Minister Jim Wallace, in charge of deciding the merits of the case.
Gecas, 85, who lives with his wife, Astrid, and their two children in Moston Terrace, is alleged to have been a member of a Lithuanian police battalion which collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War.
His unit is said to have been responsible for the deaths of up to 30,000 civilians.
He was publicly named as a war criminal nine years ago and then lost a libel case, during which the judge said he was satisfied Gecas was responsible for war crimes. But the Crown Office decided there was not enough evidence for a criminal prosecution.
Failure to see him brought to trial contributed to Britain’s recent poor showing in a league table by the Jewish Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Mr Wallace told the Scottish Parliament two weeks ago he had asked for further details on Gecas from the Lithuanian authorities.
Lord Janner, Britain’s leading Holocaust campaigner and secretary of the cross-party parliamentary war crimes working group at Westminster, said: “The authorities should move as swiftly as possible to deal with this horrendous case. He should be extradited and tried without delay. I’m concerned at any delay in this matter.”
SNP MSP Lloyd Quinan said: “The lack of urgency over this whole situation is appalling.
“For the Scottish Executive to drag its heels like this puts Scotland in a very bad light.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said officials could not be contacted to update the position.
Gecas, who was admitted to hospital earlier this month after suffering a suspected stroke, denies the allegations. His lawyer has said he may be too ill to stand trial.